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Don't worry, your article on our trip to Phu Quoc is coming soon, but in the meantime...this article ran in the NY times last week, and I thought I would share (props to Life after Jerusalem for bringing it to my attention.)

December 16, 2011, 5:05 PM

Flags for Civilians

A bit of legislation recently landed on President Obama’s desk that passed both the House and the Senate without any dissenting votes whatsoever: The Civil Service Recognition Act.
As you probably guessed — given the bland name and the unusual unanimity among lawmakers — the act is wholly inoffensive. If a federal civilian employee dies on the job, the head of an executive agency may present his or her family with an American flag.
I am not generally in favor of largely symbolic legislation, but the Civil Service Recognition Act doesn’t fall into the solution-in-search-of-a-problem category. Federal workers often end up in dicey and dangerous places, like embassies targeted by terrorist organizations. Thousands of federal civilian employees have died over the last 20 years while performing their official duties, and it’s worth recognizing their sacrifice.

I was also glad to see this official recognition since the right wing has not, of late, shown much respect for civilians in government. As my colleague David Firestone has written, Republicans have consistently countered Democratic plans to raise revenue by taxing the wealthiest Americans with proposals to cut government by reducing the size of the federal workforce — all while insisting that jobs are their Number 1 priority. (The logic is that government jobs are not really jobs.)
According to The Washington Post’s Joe Davidson, an earlier version of the bill attracted some grumbling from the American Legion and right-wing bloggers, because it seemed to equate civilian sacrifice with military sacrifice. The bill used to read: “A flag shall be furnished and presented…in the same manner as a flag is furnished and presented on behalf of a deceased member of the Armed Services who dies while on active duty.” The amended version strikes the comparison.
This editing process is the only thing that makes the Act a little bittersweet for me. The men and women who choose to join the military deserve our respect and gratitude, but so do people who choose to become diplomats. If a diplomat dies in an embassy bombing, I’m not sure why it’s wrong to suggest that he should be honored in the same way as a soldier who died on the battlefield.

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